Arsenal vs. Manchester United: A lack of ambition or simply a handbrake problem?

When you play with the handbrake on, you’re less likely to have a crash but you’re also less likely to win the match. The Gunners dropped two points in a goalless draw with Manchester United on Wednesday, missing an opportunity to overtake Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. The Red Devils are the defending champions, but they looked really weak at the Emirates Stadium, lacking creativity in midfield and struggling to build plays.

Wenger made two changes from the side that was thrashed 5-1 at Liverpool, giving Gibbs and Rosicky the nod over Monreal and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Gibbs has more pace and is also stronger in the air than Monreal while Rosicky has more experience than Chambo in the big games. The manager clearly opted for a defensive lineup with Cazorla and Rosicky on the wings. Last season, Wenger fielded a more offensive lineup against Ferguson’s team with Cazorla and Podolski on the flanks.

A lack of ambition

Initially, it made sense to focus on defensive tightness after Arsenal’s disastrous performance at Anfield Road. But since Manchester United was not much of a threat in the first half, I thought there was room to be more audacious in the second half and chase the victory. However, the manager made only one substitution, replacing Rosicky with Chambo in the 74th. To me, that looked like a lack of ambition. Giroud was really wasteful. There’s no way Bendtner could have been worse. Sure, Giroud works harder, but Bendtner would not have missed the target the way the Frenchman did.

In the closing minutes, Wenger could have switched to a 4-4-2 system by sending on Podolski, a proven goalscorer, for Ozil or Cazorla. I mean, what’s the point of having three forwards (Bendtner, Podolski, Sanogo) on the bench if you don’t use any of them when your first-choice striker (Giroud) has a poor game? The manager could be sending the wrong signals to some players. A lack of competition within the squad would definitely hurt the Gunners’ title bid by limiting the possibilities of rotation.

Koscielny’s poor run of form

The ghost from the Liverpool defeat was not completely gone on Wednesday. While the Red Devils pressed high up the pitch, an overconfident Arteta attempted to dribble past Van Persie in the second minute. The Dutch striker stole the ball to be clean through on goal. Surprisingly, Van Persie could only produce a tame low shot from 15 yards and Szczesny made the save. Koscielny performed poorly at Anfield Road and was again the weak defensive link. The France centerback played Van Persie onside in the 18th. The Dutch striker collected a through ball from Mata but sent his curling shot wide.

Obviously, those defensive frailties did not help the Gunners play with confidence. When they had counterattacking opportunities, the midfielders seemed reluctant to break forward and the lack of support for Giroud gave Manchester United enough time to regroup. The most disappointing part in the first half was Arsenal’s slow passing game, which clearly played into the hands of the Red Devils. There was a lack of movement and a lack of penetration, despite a deep run from Wilshere in the fourth minute. The England midfielder cut inside Vidic but had his goal attempt blocked by Smalling. From the subsequent corner, Giroud had a free header but missed the target from seven yards.

Unable to test Ferdinand

Rosicky forced De Gea to make his first save in the 10th with a long-range strike that deflected off a defender. The Red Devils used to be dominant in the air, but the decline of Ferdinand and Vidic has weakened them in that area. Gibbs outjumped Rafael in the 35th to head a cross from Cazorla straight into De Gea’s arms. Rafael landed awkwardly a few minutes later and was replaced by Ferdinand at half-time.

Arsenal never managed to expose Ferdinand’s lack of pace in the second half. In fact, it was Koscielny’s decision-making that was again questioned. The French centerback did not anticipate quickly enough a ball over the top and played Van Persie onside in the 66th. However, Szczesny quickly came off his line to head the ball away. In the 79th, Koscielny made a risky pass to Wilshere. Back to goal, Wilshere turned the ball over to Carrick, who found Van Persie in midfield. The Dutch striker picked out Rooney and outpaced Mertesacker to head Rooney’s cross, but Szczesny tipped the ball onto the bar.

Koscielny’s defensive performance was dodgy but he nearly scored in the 62nd from an Ozil corner. It took a clearance off the line by Valencia to prevent the Gunners from taking the lead. Arsenal was the better team in the last 30 minutes but Giroud failed to catch the frame twice. He headed wide a cross from Gibbs in the 65th and flicked wide a cross from Sagna in the 77th. The France striker missed a lot of short passes in that second half. Why the manager did not replace him is still a mystery. Cazorla was more accurate than Giroud but De Gea stopped the Spaniard’s low strike in the 84th and his curling shot in the 90th.

A champion by default?

The fans were obviously disappointed by the result as they booed the Gunners when the referee blew the final whistle. But if we put things into perspective, Arsenal trails leader Chelsea by just a point and is on pace to finish the season with 82 points. By contrast, Manchester United will need a miracle to secure a top 4 finish and is on pace to rack up just 61 points. It’s nice to still be contending at this stage of the season. But let’s be honest, we’re really missing Walcott’s pace and the Gunners can only win the title by default because Chelsea and Manchester City are much better equipped than we are.

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Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

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